Good idea becomes a great program

May 28, 2004|JIM LOGAN

Back in 1979, when churches were focused on youth ministries, Odis Clark thought outside the sandbox.

The senior minister at Indian Hills Christian Church in Danville founded Keeping in Touch, a ministry for people 55 and over. The idea was simple: Give seniors a way to enjoy fellowship, build camaraderie and be engaged with life.

Now, 25 years later, the program is stronger than ever and a vital part of the church.

"There was a time when a youth ministry was the thing," Clark said recently at the church. Seniors "got lost in the shuffle. So we've got a good balance now."

The ministry meets twice a month, usually with a day trip on the second Tuesday, while the fourth Tuesday is often used for speakers on a wide variety of topics related to aging, or for activities suggested by the group. The members might cook for the homeless, visit shut-ins or work at a charity.


Now known as THEOS

Now known as THEOS, for They Help Each Other Spiritually, the ministry has gathered and delivered a truckload of clothing, toiletries and other items to Grundy Mountain Mission school in Virginia. This year members will attend the annual statewide senior conference at Southland Christian in Lexington and attend a retreat at Lake Cumberland. In June, Clark will lead an overnight trip to Natural Bridge State Resort.

The ministry keeps its members busy, which is how Clark, an energetic man who has been at Indian Hills 28 years, likes it.

It's easy for older people to become sedentary and isolated, or overly concerned about their own mortality. THEOS, which is also the Greek word for God, works because it seeks to address the needs of seniors on multiple levels, Clark said.

"We're looking at the whole person, and we realize they have physical needs, we realize they have emotional needs, we realize they have psychological needs, right on down the line," he said. "I'm just real, real pleased about the fact that we do step back and ask ourselves, 'How can we help the whole individual?' "

Part of the answer, Clark said, is helping seniors to understand that their lives are not over simply because they're older. They do, if fact, have gifts that are unique to their age and experience - gifts that are in greater demand than they think.

"There are those things you can offer as a senior that you cannot offer as a young person," he said. "And you'd be surprised how many young people will listen to you. We encourage them to realize that it's important to live each day to its fullest."

Focusing on mortality can lead to physical, spiritual stagnation

And that can be a real challenge, Clark said. Focusing on mortality can lead to a physical and spiritual stagnation that leads to a blindness to the possibilities of life and grace. Seniors need to know that retirement doesn't mean God is through with them.

"When you get older you can get so absorbed in thinking about dying that you do not continue to live," he said. "The Lord may have some of the most productive things you're ever going to do in your life as you grow older."

Indeed, THEOS gives some seniors the chance to experience life in a way they've never known. A trip to My Old Kentucky Home State Park near Bardstown might not seem much to mobile city people, but it can be momentous for people "who have worked like dogs all their lives and had really not been much of anywhere," Clark said. "And this gave them a framework to do some things that they would never have got to do."

Plus, when you get down to it, folks in the ministry have a good time, which is no sin. It is, however, habit-forming.

"We're a fun group," Clark said. "The people who get connected to us, they stay."

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